Pop: At full Celt

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Martyn Bennett, a Gaelic speaking, classically trained folk musician from Scotland, has succeeded in creating a harmonious marriage between traditional music and contemporary dance beats. By Tim Perry

Accolades such as "groundbreaking music" and "landmark album" get bandied around fairly frequently these days. When we're talking about a dreadlocked 26-year-old Scot playing bagpipes, fiddles and other traditional instruments backed by raging hip-hop, house and drum 'n' bass beats those tributes barely do it justice. There have been all types of attempts to weld something a little weird onto dance loops. Some of them work and some of them are awful, but with Martyn Bennett's excellent current album Bothy Culture, it's evident right from the start that this is no pastiche or half-baked fusion.

His life so far also tells a story that suggests his is no novelty act. Born in Newfoundland in a Gaelic-speaking environment, he has lived in Scotland since he was six. As a kid he learned to play the Highland pipes, flute and whistle and at 15 got a place in the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama to study violin and piano. Bennett played on both the pub circuit and in symphony orchestras, and in 1990, the year Glasgow was the European City of Culture, he got heavily into the rave and house scene and then onto early drum 'n' bass clubs.

Talking down the line from his tiny home studio in Edinburgh ("it's a real spaghetti junction in here right now"), he's happier enthusing about the music he appreciates (from Lou Reed and Kate and Anna McGarrigle to Arto Lindsay, Talvin Singh and Huun Huur Tu, a group of nomadic throat singers from Mongolia) than his own life or music.

Although most of the tracks on Bothy Culture are eminently danceable, he feels that he has "never really gone the full hog down the dance route. I could have made the mixes a lot harder but I think I've always crept back into the sort of artistic element. A bit of an irony is that I don't enjoy the club scene so much these days. Folk music has become quite sexy. The stereotype Arran jumper has been replaced by surfwear. There was one time when I took my top off for a photo and it's been a talking point ever since... I don't do that kind of thing any more as I want the music to be the focus."

The gig at Waterman's is the first time he will play with a full band, and there's a real hint of glee in his voice when he declares "it's going to be very full on. There's going to be a very traditional element to it but the big beats are going to be the weird part." He concludes with a nervous laugh but with a healthy interest on American college radio and a summer of festivals coming up, it looks like we'll be hearing a lot more of his wonderful Celtobeats.

Waterman's Art Centre, Brentford, Middlesex (0181-568 1176) 12 February and at the Spitz as part of the Music Alliance events (0181-374 4207), 7 March